Differently Great

(OR: ADAPTATIONS THAT CHANGE THINGS UP
WITHOUT SUFFERING FOR IT.)

When books are adapted for the screen, I tend to shove them into one of two categories, “faithful” or “rubbish”, and I suspect that this is a common trait among book lovers. After all, if I love a book enough to want to consume it as more than one form of media, I’m not likely to be happy about significant changes to the plot or characters (or even aesthetic, though that’s more forgivable, I think, as no two people are going to imagine something exactly the same, however well it’s described)… Of course, not all writing translates well to the screen, so changes sometimes really do need to be made – but this can often sour the opinions of the books’ biggest fans.

I’ve been thinking about adaptations quite a bit lately, as the release of the new Mortal Engines film inches closer and closer; it’s one of my childhood favourites, and so far I’m feeling optimistic about the adaptation (which I will absolutely be seeing at the earliest opportunity!), even if they do end up making some changes… So I thought I’d share with you some films (and a TV series) that I thought bucked the trend, and managed to be great in their own way, despite diversions from their source material. 😊

1) How to Train Your Dragon

More inspired by Cressida Cowell’s series of novels than actually based on it, this film retains the heart and main character of its source material, but changes basically everything else. I can’t think of anything specific in the books that would make these changes strictly necessary, but since the result was so fantastic, I don’t really mind… The two are different enough that it’s easy to think of them as entirely unrelated, to be honest, but it’s absolutely worth reading/watching both.

2) The Little Prince

The 2015 adaptation (available on Netflix, if you couldn’t tell from the thumbnail!) of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s classic novel is actually remarkably faithful, but the original story only takes up about half of the film. A new storyline, where the book’s narrator is befriended by a new protagonist (a little girl who is rather more grown-up than one would expect from a child her age) plays out alongside the old one, to make a story-within-a-story that is incredibly well-executed. I couldn’t recommend this film more. 💕

3) Howl’s Moving Castle

Contrary-wise, fans of Studio Ghibli’s interpretation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel (of the same name) might be surprised to know that parts of the book are set not in the fantasy world of Ingary, but in 1980s Wales, and that Howl is actually a Welshman called Howell, as this detail was cut entirely from the film. There are other (quite significant) changes as well, from the war that Miyazaki invented, to the modified roles of many of the supporting characters, and even the different aesthetic of Howl’s castle itself (described as a wizard’s tower in the book, but a beautiful steampunk monstrosity in the film) – but both versions are absolutely wonderful.

4) The 100

The CW version of Kass Morgan’s post-apocalyptic series The 100, is perhaps a slightly dubious addition to this post, as I found the books enjoyable, but not great. So I was very much in favour of almost all the changes that the TV series’ writers and directors made… and I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if die-hard fans of the books were less impressed by the adaptation. These changes, needless to say, are too numerous to list, but I did write a whole discussion post about them a little while ago, as I found it quite interesting spotting what changes were – and weren’t – made. You can find it here, but beware of (minor) spoilers.

5) Ella Enchanted

This last one  – which is a loose adaptation of Gail Carson Levigne’s Cinderella-retelling – is one that some people may argue against, as I know that the film of Ella Enchanted isn’t the most popular… but I really enjoyed it. It’s a much more light-hearted take on Levigne’s original story, and misses out a lot of important story moments, but is still great fun. It will likely appeal to a much narrower age range than the book, however.

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Thematic Recs: Loathsome Villains

Most of the villains I’ve come across in the last few years have been sympathetic ones, and while there’s definitely something to be said for reading about a villain that you like, or understand, or even feel sorry for, the book I’m reading at the moment has reminded me just how great it is to read about a villain whom you utterly despise; to be outraged by every terrible thing that they do, and satisfied by all the poetic justice that (hopefully) comes their way. So, for today’s post, I’ve compiled a list of books with some of my favourite fantastically-written horrible people! 😋

1) The Poldark series by Winston Graham. The series that inspired this post’s main antagonist is George Warleggan, but while he’s pretty hateful at times, he has nothing on Osborne Whitworth (known as Ossie), who is present in the early books as an admirer of Demelza, but becomes an important part of the plot in the fifth book, The Black Moon. I won’t tell you exactly what makes him so repulsive, as that would be a fairly major spoiler, but in The Four Swans (which I’m currently reading) we get quite a few scenes from Ossie’s perspective, and every jaunt into his head leaves my skin crawling.

2) The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. Alexander’s so-called friend Dimitri is a stand-out character in the first book of Simons’ dramatic, emotional trilogy, as a character who claims to be a friend, but never behaves like one – something which is always frustrating, but is particularly awful in this case because of how often he plays the “if-you’re-my-friend-you’ll-do-this-for-me” card, and how much danger his “favours” (which are actually demands) put Alexander in. And let’s not forget how he refuses to take no for an answer when it comes to Tatiana, even though the only reason he’s really interested in her is because he knows that Alexander likes her… 😤

3) The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. This novel tells two stories: that of a Chinese-American woman called Pearl, and, at greater length, the tale of her mother Winnie’s life in China, and the events that led her to flee to the US. The truly horrible character in the book is a part of Winnie’s tale; her first husband Wen Fu, in fact, whom she is given little choice in marrying, and who treats her – and their children – abominably throughout their relationship, to the point where his memory haunts her long after she’s free of him. This is such an intense, wonderful story, and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who’s even remotely interested in the subject matter. It starts a little slowly, but it’s well worth pushing through those first couple of chapters.

4) The A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. And of course, I couldn’t possibly write a post about loathsome villains without mentioning A Song of Ice and Fire, where even the heroes are not always what you’d call good people, and so the villains have to be truly awful in order to provide a significant contrast… To be honest I could have made this whole list up of characters from this series: Ramsay Snow, Roose Bolton, Walder Frey, Melisandre… but for the sake of brevity I decided to go for Joffrey Baratheon, the cruel and sadistic prince – and later king – of Westeros; there’s no character I love to hate quite so dearly. 😉

Thematic Recs: The Batman Family

(One day, I will probably do a Thematic Recs post for superhero comics in general. This is not that day.) I love the Bat-family. My love for it knows (almost) no bounds, and this list compiles some of my favourite titles so far – though I’ve probably missed some great ones, as I certainly haven’t read the whole lot!

And for the record, I consider basically all the Gotham-centric heroes to be part of the Bat-family in some small way, so long as they are – or have at some point been – acknowledged by Bruce Wayne, the original Batman.

Scott Beatty & Chuck Dixon//Batgirl: Year One1) Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon. A mini-series chronicling the beginnings of the first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. I only read this on a whim, but I ended up really loving it, much to my surprise – I’ve never been a huge Barbara Gordon fan.

Peter J. Tomasi//Batman & Robin vol. 12) Batman & Robin by Peter J. Tomasi. The only series on my list since the New 52 rebooted the DC universe (though I do still like some of the other New 52 titles…). This series shows Bruce Wayne teaming up with his son Damian (the fifth Robin), and having to find a balance between fatherhood and crime-fighting.

[This series is collected in seven volumes: Born to KillPearlDeath of the FamilyRequiem for DamianThe Big BurnThe Hunt for Robin and Robin Rises.]

Bryan Q. Miller//Batgirl vol. 13) Batgirl by Bryan Q. Miller. Probably my favourite comic series, this run of Batgirl follows Stephanie Brown, the third Batgirl, as she teams up with Barbara Gordon (now in the role of Oracle) in order to fight crime, and hopefully get some recognition from the Bat-family’s main players.

[This series is collected in three volumes: Batgirl RisingThe Flood and The Lesson.]

Paul Dini//Streets of Gotham vol. 14) Batman: Streets of Gotham by Paul Dini. A sadly short-lived series featuring Dick Grayson (the original Robin, now the new Batman) and Damian Wayne trying to deal with a Bruce Wayne-imposter in Bruce’s absence. The series ended up being cut short, but the storyline was wrapped up in the Batman Incorporated series.

[This series is collected in three volumes: Hush MoneyLeviathan and The House of Hush.]

Judd Winick//Under the Red Hood5) Batman: Under the Hood by Judd Winick. Bruce Wayne deals with a new, incredibly violent, vigilante in Gotham, who calls himself the Red Hood. This is one of my all-time favourite Batman storylines – the big mystery he has to figure out is the identity of the Red Hood (my favourite character in the DC universe, and an important figure from Bruce Wayne’s past). The animated film was also incredible (which was called Under the Red Hood, like the bind-up of the comics), though it presented a rather different backstory from the original comics.

Judd Winick//Red Hood: The Lost Days

+1) Red Hood: The Lost Days by Judd Winick. Just a little bonus recommendation, since this is a spin-off of the Under the Hood storyline, and serves as a prequel to it. It tells the story of the Red Hood’s time training, and his return to Gotham, and gives an interesting new perspective on the events in Under the Hood.

Thematic Recs: Graphic Novels

Well, it seems like I end up saying this every time I do a new Thematic Recs post, but… it’s been a while since the last time I did a Thematic Recs post! 😉 This time I wanted to share some of my favourite graphic novels with you all.

There are plenty of comics that I love, too (and I expect I’ll be doing a post on them at some point as well), but they’re often very interconnected, and their quality often fluctuates with their creative teams, so they can be difficult to recommend… So for now I’ve decided to stick to graphic novels (i.e. non-serialised publications) as well as a couple of limited-series comics (i.e. comics with a pre-determined number of issues), as their stories tend to be more self-contained than other comics. But enough rambling, and onto the recommendations!

[An aside: I just realised that three out of five of these are blatantly about death, even without going into spoiler territory (which might reveal that they’re all about death! Or not. 😛 ). What that says about my taste, I’m not certain. ^^’ ]

1) The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isbel Greenberg. A wonderful story about a storyteller who’s travelling the world in order to find the missing piece of his soul, and telling all kinds of stories to the people he meets along the way. Greenberg’s art style is really cute, and complements the folk-tale feel of her writing perfectly; I stumbled upon this book two years ago, and it’s probably my favourite graphic novel of all time.

2) The River of Lost Souls by Isabel Greenberg. Another Greenberg story, written in a very similar style, though this one is only a few pages long, and was never officially released. It tells the story of a young woman who follows her father into the afterlife, and ends up meeting – and marrying – Charon, the ferryman of souls. I’d actually be quick to recommend any of Greenberg’s work, but this, and The Encyclopedia of Early Earth are probably my favourites.

3) Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. A single-volume limited series that’s set in Baghdad in the aftermath of an American bomb raid, and follows a pride of lions that escaped from the zoo. Beautifully illustrated, and incredibly moving, and apparently inspired by a real pride! Vaughan’s Saga series has become really well known in the last couple of years, but Pride of Baghdad is every bit as excellent.

4) Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman. This is a spin-off from the Sandman series, but I’m recommending it here anyway because it’s a completely self-contained story, as well as a fantastic one. The personification of Death must live as a mortal for one day in every century, and this time, she’s spending her time exploring New York with her new friend Sexton – who’s pretty sure she’s crazy. The Sandman has some really great spin-offs, and The High Cost of Living is definitely one of the best.

5) The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff. A strange tale about a young man called Deshi who is tasked with finding a bride for his deceased brother (apparently an old tradition in Northern China). The story is both haunting and incredibly intriguing, and is accompanied by some really amazing watercolour illustrations. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the character design, but that’s a very minor complaint, considering everything else about this fantastic book.

Fairytale Features: Beauty & the Beast

fairytale features

The tale of Beauty & the Beast (originally called La Belle et la Bête) is probably familiar to most people: One night, a merchant gets lost in a forest during a terrible storm, and finds shelter in a great palace, where he is offered food and drink and a warm place to sleep. The next morning, on his way out, he picks a flower for his daughter, Beauty – only to be set upon by a terrifying Beast, who accuses the merchant of stealing his most precious possession. The merchant is allowed to leave, but only after promising that he will send his daughter to the palace instead. Over time, Beauty ends up falling in love with the Beast, and through her love, the curse that had transformed him into a monster is broken.

This story was originally written in 1740 by the French author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and was influence by many different stories, including Cupid & Psyche (Apuleius; late 2nd century A.D.) and the Italian fairytale The Pig King (Giovanni Francesco Straparola; c. 1550-53), and may also have been partially inspired by the life of Petrus Gonsalvus (1537-1618), a Spanish man who became famous during his lifetime because he suffered from hypertrichosis, which made him abnormally hairy.

A more complete list of adaptations and retellings of this story can be found here, but these are a few of my favourites:

RECOMMENDATIONS

Robin McKinley//BeautyBeauty by Robin McKinley is a straight-up retelling of the original fairytale – by which I mean that the plot deviates very little from Villeneuve’s original story, though naturally both Beauty and the Beast are considerably more fleshed-out as individual characters. McKinley’s writing, however, is beautiful, and I really loved the slow, realistic relationship development in this book.

Christine Pope//Dragon RoseDragon Rose by Christine Pope is another reasonably straight-up retelling, but it’s also mixed with elements of legends such as St. George & the Dragon, where a maiden must be sacrificed every year in order to appease a terrible monster. In Dragon Rose, Rhianne (i.e. Beauty) offers herself up in the place of her friend, and is sent off to become the latest in a long, long line of brides to the cursed Dragon Lord, none of whom have ever been seen again after setting foot in his castle. Pope’s writing is not the best I’ve ever read, but I enjoyed the unpretentious nature of this story, as well as the way it played with the princess-and-the-dragon trope. It’s actually the second book in the Tales of the Latter Kingdoms series (many of which are fairytale retellings), but all the books in this series can be read as standalones.

Andrzej Sapkowski//The Last WishA Grain of Truth by Andrzej Sapkowski is a short story from The Last Wish (which is, in turn, part of the Witcher series), and manages to completely turn the tale of Beauty & the Beast on its head: Women come to the Beast willingly, enjoying their chance to flirt with danger, while their families are given a generous payment – and after a time, they leave. The Beast, for his part, is not particularly interested in breaking the curse that makes him a monster, as he fears that companions will be harder to find if he becomes less of a curiosity. Beautifully written, and fascinatingly re-imagined, this is probably one of my favourite re-tellings of this fairytale.

Rosamund Hodge//Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge imagines Beauty (this time called Nyx) as a young woman who – promised to the Beast (Ignifex, the kingdom’s evil and immortal ruler) at birth due to a bargain struck by her father – has been raised as an assassin, trained to kill Ignifex, and break the curse he’s held over the kingdom for the last 900 years. This was a fast-paced, exciting retelling, with a dark bent to it that I really enjoyed. Hodge also managed to blend the tale of Beauty & the Beast seamlessly with a whole load of Greek mythology – something that really appealed to the Classicist in me!

Sarah J. Maas//A Court of Thorns & RosesAnd of course, I couldn’t possibly leave out A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas – the book which pushed me to start writing this post (at long last)! In this book, the Beast (a.k.a. Tamlin) is a High Lord of Prythian, the kingdom of faeries, and “Beauty” (this time called Feyre) is a human huntress, struggling to support her impoverished family after her merchant father lost everything. One day, while hunting, she kills a Fae disguised as a wolf – but although she expects to be killed as punishment, instead she’s taken away to the Spring Court, where the High Lord is labouring under a terrible curse… and running out of time to break it.

There’s a lot going on in this series beyond the retelling that it starts with; in the second book, it breaks away from the fairytale almost entirely. The more epic tone of the story – the intrigue and politics and the looming threat of war – is the main thing that sets this apart from other retellings, and is probably its main selling point, but its also unusual in that it has a considerable cast of (well-developed) characters beyond Feyre and Tamlin, all with significant roles to play. [You can find my spoiler-free reviews of A Court of Thorns & Roses, and A Court of Mist & Fury here.]

[Navigation: INTRODUCTION | BEAUTY & THE BEAST | (More to come)]

Fairytale Features

INTRODUCTION

So, I finally got round to reading A Court of Mist & Fury (I haven’t finished, though, so no spoilers please), after putting it off for over eight months because I was so annoyed about Queen of Shadows (the then-most-recent entry in Maas’ other series of books). And I’m really enjoying it! 😀 The reason I’m mentioning it here, however? As you probably know, if you’re at all familiar with the series, A Court of Thorns & Roses is a (much expanded upon) retelling of Beauty & the Beast, the traditional French fairytale.

Fairytale retellings (sometimes called fairytale fantasy, or mythic fiction) seem to have become increasingly popular over the last few years, and there have been all kinds of them written – straight-up retellings, with almost no significant changes to the versions we’re all familiar with; retellings that draw on the (often quite dark) original stories that most people have forgotten (thank you, Disney 😉 );  and even wildly re-imagined tales like The Lunar Chronicles, a.k.a. Cinderella-in-space. There have been retellings of really familiar stories like the aforementioned Cinderella and Beauty & the Beast, as well as more obscure ones, such as The Goose Girl, and the legend of Tam Lin.

In this series of posts (which will be updated sporadically), I aim to talk a little about the origins of various fairytales, and to recommend a few books that retell the story in various different ways. Naturally, I will be starting with Beauty & the Beast, since there doesn’t seem like a better time to discuss it, and I’m aiming to have that posted pretty early next month. I hope you’ll enjoy it! 😀

[Navigation: INTRODUCTION | BEAUTY & THE BEAST | (More to come)]

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on any of these fairytales, or on retellings generally; just someone who enjoys reading them. If you notice any mistakes, then please feel free to point them out.

Thematic Recs: Short Stories & Novellas

The end of the year is coming up quickly now, and I’m sure that many people – like me – are seriously behind on their overambitious Goodreads reading challenges. But fear not! I’m here to help, with some recommendations for really short, but still fantastic books for you to read! 😉 Obviously, not finishing your Goodreads (or equivalent) challenge isn’t the worst thing that could happen in a year (and I know I won’t finish mine, even if I read nothing but short stories from now until New Year), but seeing that shiny “COMPLETED” label always gives me a small sense of achievement. 😀

Yuri Herrera//Signs Preceding the End of the World1) Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. This most recent novella that I read is a thought-provoking story about a young woman crossing the border illegally from Mexico to the US in order to find her brother, an illegal immigrant, and pass on a message from their mother. Despite its length, this is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a while, and because I picked it up as part of the Library Scavenger Hunt, I’ve also posted a review – you can find it here. 🙂

Brandon Sanderson//Perfect State2) Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson. The tale of a man who has become the God-Emperor of his people, but is forced by the mysterious Wode to choose a partner and procreate. The woman he ends up choosing is at the very bottom of his compatibility list – a women’s rights activist – and the personality clash when they meet makes for a fascinating read. Additionally, this is another story that I’ve reviewed, as I read it during Booktubeathon this summer.

Rainbow Rowell//Kindred Spirits3) Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell. A World Book Day 2016 story about a small group of strangers waiting in the overnight queue to see Star Wars on its release day. It’s simultaneously adorable and hilarious, and I only wish there was some way that I could read more about these characters. 😀

Ursula K. Le Guin//A Fisherman of the Inland Sea4) Another Story OR A Fisherman of the Inland Sea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Rather on the longer side for a short story, this tale blends science, mythology and emotional drama in a way that pulled at all my heartstrings, and tells the story of a young man leaving for university on a planet far away from his own, and the difficulties he faces in keeping in touch over such long distances. I don’t think that this book is available on its own, but it can be found in both Le Guin’s A Fisherman of the Inland Sea anthology, as well as the massive time-travel compilation, The Time-Traveller’s Almanac (volume 1, for the curious). It’s also part of the Hainish Cycle, but it can be read individually.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry//The Little Prince5) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Last but by no means least is The Little Prince, a novella that I’m sure you’ve all at least heard of about a pilot who crash lands in the desert, and there meets a little boy who claims to have come from an asteroid. Beautiful, poignant and touching, this story is known as a classic for a very good reason, and I only appreciate it more every time I re-read it. As a side-note, I watched the film adaptation of this recently, and it’s also fantastic; you should definitely check it out if you have access to a Netflix account.